The government and communications providers are conspiring to keep the effects of the Communications Data Bill under wraps, according to a damning letter from privacy advocates.
The Bill was always going to be controversial. It enables police and security services to monitor internet activity and email communications subject to a warrant being issued, though stopping shot of gaining access to email content. A draft version of the Bill was published in October, and it is thought that a finalised version could be ready for the Queen’s Speech in May.
According to a challenging letter sent by major privacy activist groups, communications providers could be ordered to store all customers' comms data for a year, and give police access to the records via a "filter" which would operate like a search engine for a vast database.
Privacy watchdogs are concerned that the data does not just include the content of communications but all the details connected to it. It wants ISPs to withdraw their support for the Bill.
Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and the Open Rights Group have penned a strongly-worded letter accusing major UK telcos, including BT, Virgin, O2, Sky and TalkTalk, of complying with a government attack on privacy.
According to the Telegraph, the letter said that the telcos have appeared willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of their customers. It says that this is a dangerous step, exacerbated by their silence.
The telco's customers have not had the opportunity to comment on these proposals and most have no idea such a policy was being considered.
The letter said that this is a critical failure not only of government, but a betrayal of the telco customers' interests.
"You appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office, the only concern being whether or not you will be able to recover your costs," the letter told the telcos.
Computerworld has reported that the privacy groups also attacked the lack of transparency with which negotiations have been conducted, with much of the policy discussions taking place “behind closed doors”. It implied that that the ISPs were bending to the will of the Home Office over privacy concerns.